I recently went on a 6 week photo trip, that took me to South Korea, India, Nepal, and Indonesia. This is the first of several blog posts I will be writing about my journeys (in no particular order). I started my trip in South Korea, and from there, over to Bali and around to some of the other islands in Indonesia. Then to India and Nepal…
After a bunch of planning, and booking tickets, I was finally heading out on my six week journey. Stella offered to take me to the airport, but I would much rather head to the port with my buddy Mingma Sherpa. This means we would get there a couple hours early and suck down a few margaritas, instead of showing up late and barely making the flight. Stella is from Tanzania Africa, and they have a saying there “no hurry in Africa”, and unfortunately she still applies that here in the US most of the time…
Because I was traveling light, I offered to let Mingma fill my second suitcase with things for friends and family over in Nepal. This later turned out to be a big hassle, but I don’t regret it, as it made plenty of people happy over there. So… a few nights before I left, I mentioned to another Sherpa friend that if he wanted to send a pair of shoes to Nepal, I would stuff them in my personal backpack. I had forgotten about this until Mingma came to take me to the airport and had with him, 2 pairs of the biggest snow boots you could possibly buy from Wallmart!!! After trying all kinds of different configurations , I had to reluctantly leave them behind (Mingma’s suitcase was exactly 50lbs, and had no room for boots). So, we were off to the airport hoping that my luggage wouldn’t be overweight. We got there early, and everything checked in fine. Drank a few margaritas and then off to South Korea.
I landed at Incheon International Airport at about 4:30am, and would have 10 hours to head into Seoul and make some photos before catching my flight to Bali… After getting through customs, and changing some money, I proceeded to the information booth to find out how to get to Seoul. The airport is about 45 minutes from any real civilization, which I found a little odd, and I’m still not exactly sure why they put it so far away from everything. Turns out that English is not heavily spoken around there, and it took me awhile to figure out what bus I had to get on, but I finally figured it out. It departed at 5:30am and the cost was about $10 US dollars.
I arrived at Dongdaemun market just as the sun was rising. The Dongdaemun area is Korea’s largest wholesale and retail shopping district has 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops, and 50,000 manufacturers. Within the ten blocks of the market area, you can find silks, clothes, shoes, sporting goods, plumbing and electrical supplies, electronics, office supplies, toys and just about everything else imaginable. Hardly anyone there spoke any English, but I arrived right when all the chefs were preparing food for the day in the small cluttered alleyways of the market. It really was a different world in there, and while many of the people wouldn’t allow me to make photos of them, many didn’t seem to mind at all.
I wandered around here for about 4-5 hours making photos of various people, food, products, and whatever I could find basically. I didn’t see another white person there the whole time, and got quite a few strange looks and laughs from the locals, but felt safe and comfortable the whole time. I’m not a huge fan of Korean food, and I know they tend to eat just about anything that moves (not a problem, just saying), so I played it safe with the food and ate some shrimps, and some fried rice. I decided to make my way back to the airport and this proved a bit challenging as nobody seemed to speak English around there. I finally found a young student at the bus stop that I could talk with, and he got me onto the right bus back to the airport…
As I was sitting in the lounge in South Korea drinking free Korean beer and eating fried rice. I thought I might as well make it down to my gate and wait for my flight to Bali. I still had an hour to kill and was chatting away to my friend on Skype, who suggested I catch a quick shower before the flight, so off I went to get my shower on. It turns out that the clock in the lounge was off by 1 hour, and after I got my shower, and wandered down to the gate, I noticed nobody was waiting at the gate, and started to wonder if I was at the wrong gate when I heard “are you going to Denpasar, Bali”? Before I could even reply, she grabbed my boarding pass and told me “you have to run!!!” I was the last one on the plane and of course I looked like a total moron boarding the airplane… I’ve had some pretty close calls and had to run to the gate more than once, but this by far the closest I have ever come to missing a flight.
Once we were on our way, I ordered another one of those Korean beers, and tuned into some reggae… About half way through the flight and a couple more beers later, the captain called for seat-belts, and I witnessed one of the most gnarly lightning storms I have ever seen. It was cracking everywhere, and it wasn’t all that far away… This lasted for about 20-30 minutes, and then we finally landed in Bali at about 1am in the morning. I have some stories about my first few hours in Bali, but I will save that for another post.
UPDATE: Click here to read bout my time in Bali…
Great story Jesse !
Your images are fantasti, you would make a great living as a National Geographic Photographer. You really can tell a story with just a snap of the shutter. Very interesting travel stories as well.
Thanks Helminadia and Jim!
@Shawn – I appreciate the kind words, but I’m not so sure I would make it as a National Geographic Photographer 🙂